The Foreign Service Journal, March 2019

58 MARCH 2019 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA FCS VP. Contact: | (202) 482-9088 FCS VP VOICE | BY DANIEL CROCKER AFSA NEWS Tell Me How This Ends We are now entering the third year of budget cycles for the Commercial Service under the current adminis- tration. For Fiscal Year 2018, the Trump administration requested a reduction of $43 million for our operations and asked Congress for approval to close 35 posts overseas and 10 U.S. field offices. Thankfully, Congress dis- agreed and kept our appro- priations at FY17 levels. For FY19, the administra- tion asked for $44 million in cuts. And all indications are that in FY20 the administra- tion will repeat this request. The partial shutdown has been a sideshow by com- parison. Even if Congress keeps our appropriations level, rising operating expenses will result in further staffing shortfalls. We will need to close posts. This situation prompts one to ask three hard questions: 1 – Is the Commer- cial Service proving its relevance to the admin- istration’s priorities on economic security? Com- merce’s Bureau of Industry and Security, along with our Enforcement and Compliance unit, clearly are. And through the BUILD Act, the Overseas Private Investment Corpo- ration’s authorization was doubled to counter Chinese mercantilism overseas. Our authorizing language gives us scope to reprioritize to be able to support more commercial advocacy work, greater emphasis on address- ing market barriers and greater attention to repre- senting OPIC. Are we ready and willing to do so to earn the administration’s trust and support? 2 – What is the Com- merce Department’s strat- egy for the Commercial Service, and what resources does it expect to need? Simply taking a financial hair- cut by closing posts doesn’t sound like a strategy. And if posts are being selected for closure based on historical measures and metrics that are less relevant to the administration’s focus on economic security, we will be doubling down on a perceived irrelevance. What if our office in Angola doesn’t look as “productive” on export promotion metrics as Portugal, but at the same time Chinese interest in Angola is of geopolitical con- cern to this administration? 3 – In 10 years, will Com- merce still have a Foreign Service? Discretionary spending will come under unprecedented pressure in the coming years, simply due The partial shutdown has been a sideshow by comparison. to mounting entitlement obli- gations and sovereign debt obligations. The Commercial Service will find itself competing for funding with agencies working on defense, disease control, federal law enforcement and counterterrorism, food secu- rity and many other functions that Congress will logically pri- oritize under scarce funding. If we can’t clearly articu- late our relevance today for an administration that considers economic security to be of paramount impor- tance; if we are facing flat or even shrinking appropriations that require us to shrink our footprint overseas; if all dis- cretionary funding is getting squeezed; then, in the words of General Petraeus, “tell me how this ends.” n ANNOUNCEMENT JO I N THE JOURNAL ’S ED I TOR I AL BOARD Are you an active-duty or retired Foreign Service mem- ber and a member of AFSA? If so, we invite you to apply for a two-year term on the Editorial Board of The Foreign Service Journal . See the ad on page 87 for more information. n ANNOUNCEMENT SAVE THE DATE ! FORE I GN SERV I CE DAY FR I DAY, MAY 3 Stay tuned for announcements from AFSA about Foreign Service Day programs and events. For information about the formal program at the Department of State, email . n